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Frustrations in Aquascaping PDF Print E-mail
Written by Donald Lee   

Elodea, cabomba, salivinia, ludwigia, vallisneria, water lettuce, and even milfoil! What do these plants all have in common? They’re all plants listed as invasive species in the U.S. More importantly, they're all aquarium plants that have likely, at one point, been disposed of only to find themselves thriving in new territories thanks to the frustration of a beginning aquascaper who was incapable of making them thrive in their fish tank.

Frustrations in Aquascaping 

The Woes of Introductory Aquascaping

It seems that there is that added frustration most aquascapers give themselves when considering a plant: certainly, they can purchase the plant for their tank for a few dollars more, but in the end they often end up with a brown pile of mush and a welling sense of frustration. Is it a scheme of sorts?

To be honest, it has nothing to do with any schemes of any sort—though one may think otherwise as pet stores do have a tendency to mix emersed plants with their aquatic selection—it mostly has to do with the aquarium.

This is Not Your Father's Fish Tank

Admittedly, we have come a long way from the days when guppies came in only one variety and plecos were rare novelties for the most experienced and spendthrift of freshwater aquarists. The aquarium has advanced quite a bit, but the emphasis has mainly been towards fish.

For example, the typical lighting system offers a pleasant fluorescent or incandescent appearance to the tank, but barely musters any light to encourage photosynthesis. Plants are usually recommended to have 2.5 watts of light per gallon, but most tanks can only provide 1 watt or even less. The fish don’t mind the poor lights. In fact, it is often encouraged to keep lights low since strong lights promote stress for certain species who often thrive in cover or are nocturnal. For the plant, however, we are barely throwing it a bone.

Filtration also encourages removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from tanks through devices that encourage disturbing water tension. Considering how many people run their tanks exclusively with fish, this is a very good thing! Too much CO2 is bad for the inhabitants, just as too much CO2 is bad for us. For plants, however, it is far from unfavorable. In fact, the filtering often encourages the more diehard planter to install their own method of putting more CO2 back into the water!

Why Bother?

It seems that aquascaping from the very beginning is an uphill struggle. But with that said, it is far from an impossible task for the person willing to make some changes while understanding the limits of both their tank and its residents. Keeping plants has many rewards in the end that most fishkeepers appreciate, as do their fish.

  • Plants (especially of the "invasive weed" variety) siphon out the nitrates from your tank that your fish produce, providing less for the algae to grow off. The tank thus gains a little more breathing room for its inhabitants as a result.

  • Plants will aerate your tank from what CO2 they are receiving.

  • The tank inhabitants will appreciate the plants, as they offer cover and will make them feel less like they are in a tank and more like they are in their wild habitat. Unlike the plastic variety, they do not encourage damaging the fish as much, either.

  • Plants help in breeding tanks by encouraging infusoria, which are tiny microorganisms that very small fry will eat.

  • Unlike the more easily available species of fish, there is often demand for aquatic plants. There is not as much value towards the "weed" varieties, but there is always someone willing to buy if the stock is healthy.

Tips Towards Aquatic Plants

  • If it looks like it should be in a flower pot, chances are that it is an emersed plant. These plants will live underwater, but given a month without air, they will die. Certain species include names like "dragon flame" or "purple waffle" and often appear very colorful.

  • Most fish will nibble on your plants or thrash them, silver dollars and goldfish especially. Diehard plants are often recommended for such species, such as java fern, java moss, and anubias. Conversely, you may also use plenty of fast-growing plants for them to nibble on and keep in check, such as hornwort. If you are considering the plants before the fish, then consider getting fish that have a small maximum size (3-4 inches). Most bottom feeders should be avoided as well.

  • Most low-light plants are recommended for a beginner tank. These generally include elodea, java moss, java fern, and anubias. Cryptocoryne will also work, and certain melon swords will live in the tank as long as you keep them within closer range to the light source and will maintain a nice small size. This also applies to the banana plant.

  • Floating plants have the benefit of being closer to your light source as well as receiving CO2 from the air, making them a little easier to grow.    
  • Unless the plant itself is normally red, a lightening/yellowing of the plant is a sign of malnourishment. It will need some more nutrients in there in the form of trace elements and may require some liquid fertilizer to substantiate it.
  • Do not use regular fertilizer unless you understand how to plant it properly. If you do attempt to use regular fertilizer, try something with the lowest nitrates and phosphates possible. Otherwise, stick to liquid fertilizer, which can be purchased for a reasonable price.
  • Just because you have plants does not mean that you can stop cleaning the tank unless you are growing a jungle. Use a turkey baster to flush the fish waste out of the ground and have a hose suck it out of the aquarium.



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